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Youth Center opens

AHOSKIE – The single story, brick building that sits between the Ahoskie Rural Fire Department and the Ahoskie Police Department on West Main Street has been used for many purposes over the years.

However, it may now have found its true objective.

The building was formally christened as the Ahoskie Youth Center during a ceremony held Thursday afternoon. It was originally constructed as the Band Room for Ahoskie High School and later served as a voting precinct and as a building rented out for community events.

Once inside the facility following Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, local children were invited to be the first to leave their handprints on a wall. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

The idea of transforming the old building into a Youth Center is credited to Ahoskie Mayor Weyling White. He said Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Youth Center doubled as an official launch to the “Our Children Matter Campaign.”

“As you know there’s been much tragedy in our town involving our youth,” White said. “There’s been much discussion, much collaboration, and a lot of ideas put on the table as to how we can combat that, to prevent further tragedies from happening.”

White said he has been personally affected by tragic events that have taken away people he knew and loved.

“We have to take a stand and make sure that, going forward, no other family has to experience that pain,” he stressed. “That’s the purpose of this Youth Center, a place, a safe haven for our young people to grow, learn, and interact with each other in a positive way.”

He stressed that the need for such a place was rooted deep in tragedy and credited three local women – Shannon Harrell, Taiwanna Saulsbury, and Shannon Vann – for their bold vision to find ways to protect and nurture the dreams of local youth. Those three women each lost a child to gun violence.

“These families have endured emotional pain and suffering. Their losses impacted many lives here in our town and community,” White noted. “Part of their vision, which has become our vision, is youth violence prevention. Our youth are afraid to walk the streets in their own neighborhoods. We’ve got to take our streets back and make them safe again.”

White thanked members of the Ahoskie Town Council and a group of volunteers who made this dream become a reality. He also introduced members of the newly selected Youth Advisory Council. They will participate in community service projects and plan/develop leadership opportunities for young people. The group will meet monthly (on the third Monday) where they will brainstorm ideas and serve as a voice for other youth residing in Ahoskie.

“We will use these bright minds to build ideas, build solutions, build innovation that involve our youth,” White said.

Enviva Biomass is a corporate sponsor of the Youth Center.

Comfortable mats are positioned in front of this reading area at the Ahoskie Youth Center. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

“We appreciate the opportunity to provide direct support and sponsorship for this Youth Center,” said Chris Brown, Community Relations Director with the company, which operates one of its pellet mills in Ahoskie. “We see the need to invest in our youth. I commend Weyling on this initiative. It’s a great step for Ahoskie and for the community in general going forward.”

U.S. Congressman G.K. Butterfield (NC-01) attended the event and also praised Mayor White for his vision to help provide alternative ways for youth to safely interact.

“Nothing makes me prouder than to go into a community and see young, passionate leadership,” Butterfield remarked. “Mayor White has done great work in this community. He hasn’t done it alone as he has partners on the Town Council, partners in the community, partners in law enforcement, and partners in education. All of you working together have made this day possible.”

Butterfield said he will continue to fight for funding for rural communities like Ahoskie, investments in what he termed as “human infrastructure.”

“There’s more to infrastructure than brick and mortar; it’s about education, recreation, senior citizens; it’s about safe communities. That’s what we’re debating now in Washington….an infrastructure package that includes highways, bridges, etc., but also human infrastructure like you see in this particular building behind me,” the Congressman said.

Hertford County Public Schools is one of the partners of the Youth Center.

“If we are going to change the face of young people, it has to be done collectively with partners such as Mayor White and the Town of Ahoskie who made their vision a reality with this Youth Center,” said HCPS Superintendent Dr. William T. Wright Jr. “We will continue to work together for the betterment of our youth. The more we can provide safe spaces for our youth, the better off we are.”

White introduced two additional partners, Chris Khan and LaTasha Vaughan. Their respective organizations – New Direction and BeYou-tiful – will use the Youth Center for their programs.

The Ahoskie Youth Center features gaming areas….to include this one where a child tries his hand at shooting basketball. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

“We work with males and females, giving them opportunities to become successful. We believe in them, and that belief gives them the confidence to better themselves,” stated Khan.

Vaughan said her organization was founded to empower and educate at-risk females (ages 10-19).

“We motivate them by showing them that they are worthy and teach them about themselves,” Vaughan said. “We are so thankful for this space here in Ahoskie that will allow us to mentor to these young women.”

In addition to New Direction and BeYou-tiful, White said an application process will soon open that will allow for even more youth to participate as well as opportunities for adult volunteers/mentors to work with the children.

For more information, call the Ahoskie Town Hall at 252-332-5146.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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